Normally when my head hits the pillow, I fall fast asleep. And for that I am grateful. However, sleep doesn’t just happen. Before I go to bed I have a ritual of doing the Times crossword. No it’s not the cryptic crossword – it’s what my wife calls the ‘Mickey Mouse’ crossword. Whatever, it takes my focus away from the strains and stresses of the day. It helps me to relax after a day listening to problems of one kind or another.
The other night, however, I could not stay asleep. From two o’clock in the morning my mind was in over-drive. I kept on jumping out of bed, writing down whatever came to mind, before diving under the duvet again. In some ways it was a very productive time – all sorts of ideas came to mind. But it wasn’t the best of times. After a long hard day, I was tired – and yet the adrenalin was going. Or was it the result of eating too much cheese before I turned in to bed?
As a child I was told that if you can’t sleep, then you should count sheep. But according to one insomniac’s guide, counting sheep is a little too boring to occupy a restless mind. The guide instead recommends:
Try counting by powers of two instead. This means starting with the number 1 and continually doubling it. 1,2,4,8,16… 1024…8388608. Eventually you are going to lose track of the digits and have to start over. Little math games can keep your mind occupied when distracting thoughts are keeping you awake!
Maths has never been my strong subject, so I have never been tempted to count sheep, let alone to engage in more taxing forms of arithmetic. Instead, I prefer to switch on the radio, very low, and listen to BBC World Service. Time and again I find that this soothes my mind, and within a matter of a few minutes I am drifting back to sleep.
However, that night I didn’t switch on the radio – not least because I was afraid I would waken Caroline. Instead, in the midst of my restlessness my mind went to Psalm 127.2 where the Psalmist says of God that “he gives sleep to his beloved”. But that night God did not give me much sleep.
In the morning I read again Psalm 127. The Psalm is in the first place addressed to the anxious. The thrust of verse 2 in particular is that there is no need to be anxious. Overtime and worry won’t necessarily solve any problem – we will only end up with a heart attack or a stomach ulcer. What is needed is that having done an honest day’s work we trust God to provide. The German scholar Artur Weiser commented:
[the Psalmist] certainly does not mean to say that God will grant to man without his co-operation all that he desires but cannot achieve by his own labours. Not what man himself desires, but ‘what is proper’ – in the eyes of a God who cares – is what he will give him. This is the true attitude of faith, which really casts all anxieties on God and gratefully leaves it to him to grant what he himself thinks needful. And behind that attitude there may be the insight that man himself is by no means always able to judge what the proper thing for him is. The blessing of God often lies hidden in some quite different place from where man seeks it in the first instance.
The other night I was not worried or anxious. There was no one thing on my mind. Instead, there were a wide range of things coming to mind. I was not focussing on a problem. Rather, in my relaxed state, ideas galore were surfacing. Maybe God was wanting to disturb my sleep in order to direct my thoughts to actions to be taken in the day ahead. Maybe there are times when God does not want to give his beloved sleep!